O’Connor’s Guide to All Grain Brewing
All grain brewing is the process of creating beer from malted grains such as barley, wheat, rye and corn- as opposed to using malt extracts or concentrates.
Why brew all grain?
There are many reasons brewers choose all grain over extract brewing. The main reason brewers switch to all grain is because it gives the brewer more control over the final product. Another reason to brew all grain is because it is generally about 40% cheaper to brew than malt extract beers.
Terms to Know
Mash – the combination of warm water and milled grain that you create in a mash tun
Vorlauf – the process of cycling the first few liters of cloudy runoff bath through the mash tun
Wort- the sweet sugary liquid runoff from the mash tun
Lauter- to collect the sugary wort from the grains
Sparge – the process of rinsing sugars from grains after lautering
Beginning all grain brewing requires more initial investment than just our standard brewing kit.
Mash Tun- This is the most important piece of equipment for all grain brewers. Mash tuns are typically a cooler or pot that have a false bottom and a ball valve.
Brew Kettle/Pot- The kettle size for a 5 gallon batch should be at least 7.5 gallons. I prefer 10 gallon pots which are helpful when brewing high gravity beers or beers that require over a 60 minute boil.
Hot liquor tank – This is simply a cooler or pot with a ball valve. It holds water for fly sparging.
Sparge Arm – A sparge arm takes water from the hot liquor tank and spreads it gently and evenly across the bed of grain in the mash tun. This is used when fly sparging.
Propane Heater/Alternative heat – Unlike extract all grain brewing requires the brewer to boil 7+ gallons of wort. Some stove tops are capable of this but some aren’t. Options other than a propane burner include an electric element (220v) or an induction heater (requires a tri-clad bottom pot).
Step 1: Recipe
People rant and rave about different recipes. No matter how particular people get, it is not the recipe that matters the most. It is the execution on brew day and during fermentation. Rob has already created a great article on our website, but here are just a few general tips.
Most beers consist of 90% base grains such as 2-row, Pale Ale Malt, or Pilsen. The other 10% is composed of specialty grains. This can vary depending on style. Adding hops at different points in the boil matters. Any hops during the first 40 minutes of the boil are considered bittering hops that contribute to a beers bitterness. Hops added during the last 20 minutes are called aroma hops and affect the beers aroma and hop flavor.
When choosing a yeast make sure it is one that can handle your fermentation temperature. Remember fermentation temps are generally a few degrees higher than the ambient temperature.
Water is also an important ingredient in beer. In general if water tastes good to you and others it is probably ok to brew with. If you really want to start playing around with water however, a decent water filter can go a long way. Also, blending tap water with reverse osmosis or distilled water can also be beneficial.
Step 2: Mashing In
Heat up water to your mash in temperature and dump it into the mash tun. Slowly add milled grain while stirring to make sure there are no grain clumps or air pockets. After stirring take the mash temperature. It should be somewhere in between 140 F and 158 F. A higher temperature creates a sweeter final product while a lower temperature creates a drier beer. Most beers are between 150 F and 155 F. If you miss your initial temperature try to fix it as soon as possible. Put the lid on the mash tun and let it sit typically for an hour. During this process several enzymes (such as alpha and beta amylase) are working to convert the starches found in the malted grains into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars. Mash times are generally around 60 minutes but can vary depending on the style of beer.
Step 3: Lautering
Lautering is separating the wort from the milled grains. This is what the false bottom on the bottom of your mash tun allows you to accomplish. When lautering it is important to go slowly. An average speed depending on the system is a quart a minute. It is very important to Vorlauf when you begin lautering. Vorlaufing is collecting the first amount of runoff or wort from your mash tun until the wort runs clear and doesn’t have big chunks of grain in it. This usually takes the first gallon or so depending on beer recipe and equipment setup. You then take the unclear wort and gently run it through your mash again. It is important to not just dump the wort back in but to slowly poor it over a spoon or through a wort aerator as to not disturb the grain bed. If enough grain gets into the boil it can cause tanic off flavors.
Step 4: Sparge
Their are mainly two ways to sparge.
Batch Sparging is heating up a specified amount of water to 168°F and pouring it into your mash tun after lautering. Leave the hot water in for about ten minutes, vorlauf, and then collect what is called your second runnings. Again, just like lautering the idea is to drain your mash tun slowly.
Fly Sparging is done simultaneously to lautering and requires a hot liquor tank. You fill a hot liquor tank with a specified amount of 168°F or slightly hotter as your figure out how much your temperature drops. Hot water from the hot liquor tank then goes through the sparge arm into the mash tun. The rate at which water flows from the mash tun should match the amount of water flowing into it from the hot liquor tank. You want about an inch of water above the grain bed at all times.
Step 5: Boil
After you have collected your wort it is time to begin the boil. Most recipes call for a 60 minute boil. This is also the time to start adding hops. Some home stove stops can boil 7 gallons of wort, but others cannot. Any old turkey fryer can work to heat up your beer, but be careful because some do not have a good flame adjustment and can easily cause boil overs. The Blichmann floor burner is one of the best burners easily available and can run off of natural gas with an adapter. It is important to remember that absolutely everything that touches the beer after the boil should be sanitized thoroughly.
Step 7: Cool
Cooling wort quickly is important to making a top quality brew. It reduces the chances of infection and also helps accentuate your hop aroma in hop forward beers. Unlike cooling extract kits, which require cooling 2.5 gallons, all grain recipes require 5 gallons to be cooled.
There are many ways to cool beer. The easiest way to cool beer is by using an immersion chiller. Immersion chillers are made of copper tubing (or sometimes stainless) that has been coiled. Cold water runs through the chiller, cooling the beer.
Other options include a counter-flow chiller and a plate chillers. When in desperate need a snowbank will work well too.
Step 8: Pitch Yeast and Aerate
Almost done! Now all you have to do is pitch your yeast into the beer. Afterward cover the grommet hole and shake the beer for five minutes. This will add needed initial oxygen to the beer to help the yeast ferment.
Step 9: Fermentation
The most important part of fermentation after having enough yeast cells is temperature. Again this temperature depends on yeast, but should be around 66-72°F. Active fermentation generally takes about 2 weeks. Airlock activity can generally be seen in the first few days. No airlock activity is not a sign that your beer is not fermenting. The only way to really tell is by taking a gravity reading. After fermentation is complete you can age the beer, bottle, or keg it.